Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold





As the foot and not the shoemaker is the cause of the shoe, so we must look farther afield for the causes of drunkenness than the present state of the licensing laws. Without the stimulus of legislation the upper classes have become, in two generations, habitually temperate. A sot is no longer regarded by society with the easy temper prevailing at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Prince Bismarck-whose feats with the tankard excite the loving admiration of Busch-speaks of the time when the consumption of strong waters and "huge cups of mixed champagne and porter" were "the indispensable passports


into the diplomatic service." Two hundred years ago the chief pleasures of the country gentlemen of England were commonly derived from unrefined sensuality. The quantity of beer consumed in those days was enormous. Beer was then not only all that beer is now, but filled the place, to a large extent, of wine, tea, coffee, chocolate, liqueurs, and ardent spirits. Since the Revolution the drinking habits of the cultivated classes have gradually lessened, until the vice of drunkenness has become the characteristic of the lower and not of the upper stratum of society. Melancholy and monotonous as the lot of the poorest men in a great city must necessarily be, with all the earth but mud and dust paved away from under their feet, and the blue sky always hidden by a canopy of smoke, the imagination is only to be stirred by resort to the stimulus of alcohol, or to the excitements of emotional religion.

Sicilian peasants sing and dance in the intervals of toil under the witchery of sunshine, fruit, and flowers. English labourers of the cities take their pleasure under the stinging impulse of vitriolic intoxicants. Between


abstinence and excess there is no middle path In the submerged stratum of which we are speaking, I am unable to discover the existence of a temperate class, although the abstinent class is larger than is generally supposed. Abstinence and undue indulgence seem to be the only available alternatives. While, therefore, the so-called "Temperance" movement receives great support from the existence of prevailing excess, it has extinguished the moderate class by silencing the moderate men. There is nothing lessthan an infinite difference in morality and in destiny between a sober and an intemperate man. To confound temperance with total abstinence, which is now the shibboleth of the Temperance Reformers, is to trifle with language, fact, and character. The results of such insincerity are disastrous. Kingsley, who was a man before he was a clergyman, prophesied the consequences of such a Procrustean policy, and the condition of our great cities is witness to the accuracy of his anticipations. Strictly sober men are hustled into shame-faced silence by the innuendoes of abstinent fanatics. What is the result ?


Families, schools, churches, trades clubs, who are not taught the doctrine of abstinence, are left untaught on the whole question of alcoholic enjoyment. A population drenched with strong drink, degraded and impoverished beyond the experience of history, are invited to relinquish what is practically their only form of enjoyment, and the invitation is couched in the language of a counsel of perfection. The common people have never responded to the suggestions of heroic selfdenial, or to a counsel of perfection, and it is unlikely that the mass of the English people will, in our time, affiliate themselves with the United Kingdom Alliance.

The remedy must be sought elsewhere. In the re-housing of the poor, in the provision of rational entertainments, in the exercise of a more vigilant supervision over the character and purity of the liquors retailed in the public houses, and in a vigorous reform of the licensing laws may be found material contributions to the solution of one of the greatest of our national problems. The enthusiastic outbreak of moderate men in favour of organic changes in the method


of grappling with drunkenness is essential to a rational and successful treatment of the temperance question. Too-much honour is paid by successive Governments to the drink interests. Beer is coronetted by grateful Ministers; whisky and porter, by the sheer weight of their influence, acquire hereditary distinction without an effort. That Medicine should be without one representative in the House of Lords, while the drink which provides them with most of their patients is crowned with glory and honour, is repugnant to common sense. If we drank ourselves out of the Alabama Claims we have drunk ourselves into a singularly shameful position as a torch-bearer of civilization. We do not hold the torch upright, and we have burnt all the dependent tribes with whom we have come in contact in foreign parts.

American working men, especially the Scandinavians, enjoy their lager beer and are strictly temperate. The absence of a pure and mildly stimulating beverage for habitual use is, perhaps, one of the chief causes of habitual excess in England. If it be unlikely that the whole nation will ever consent


to total abstinence, the reasonable course to pursue is to limit the necessary evil, to purify the drink, and to supply other resources for the employment of their time to those who are driven to the low beershop by the sheer necessities and unlovely conditions of their lives.

Public opinion is now so strongly in favour of some form of local option as a means of cutting off the supply and thus reducing the consumption, it is desirable, at all events, to try the experiment, and no more favourable field of operations could be found than those densely populated neighbourhoods which are at once inhabited by the poorest and most degraded of mankind, and dominated by the brewing and publican interests. American experience of local option is by no means conclusive of a successful result ensuing from this class of legislation. Whether the passion for drink be extinguished, or whether it be gratified by stealth, or on the circumference of the prescribed area, is a moot point. On the , where no public-house is allowed to be erected, the inhabitants are remarkable for


their freedom from pauperism or crime. On the other hand the circumference of the estate is fringed with public-houses, so that the heart of the district alone is preserved from the temptation presented freely to those dwelling farther from the centre. To draw correct inferences it is necessary that observations should not be based on experiments conducted in too restricted an area. The district chosen should either be compact-that is, square or circular in form-or better still, should include the whole area of a town or city. The results following the closure of disorderly houses in a densely populated parish seem to show that transfer and not extinction of evil is the consequence of action within too limited an area, bordered on all sides by a dense population possessing similar characteristics to that affected by the exclusion of facilities for the sale of drink.

With regard to rivals to the public-house, nothing will succeed in attracting the mass of the people unless it is really entertaining, at all events, in the first instance. Recreation and not instruction is what the poor folk lack. A house for the public where good


comic songs, free from the grossness and suggestiveness so common in the publichouse "free-and-easy," will draw hundreds, especially if the performers, or some of them, will take personal interest in the cares and welfare of the audience. In a short time, when relations have been established between the hearers and the entertainers, the comic element may be replaced by music of a higher grade. Gradually as intelligence awakes, bright, short lectures on popular topics, easy science, physiology, English history, travels, and biography excite the liveliest interest, and, in a large proportion of cases, lead to the abandonment of the more bestial methods of whiling away of leisure hours. An occasional concert is useless Open a house for the public, and have some form of excitement provided three or four times a week, and especially on Sunday evenings, and in a short time, and after the exercise of patience and good temper, the people who came to laugh remain to learn. Such houses for the public can be held wherever a large room or small hall is available. They cost but little. A large staff of


volunteers is indispensable, since few are willing or able to attend more than once or twice a month. It is to be wished that the churches, chapels, synagogues, school board buildings, and vestry halls were available nightly for the recreation of the people. Dumb churches, buildings in the midst of a brain-soaked population, would seem to be exactly fitted for the real elevation of the habits of the poor. Clerical prejudice, however, for the most part favours the reservation of these buildings for the vocabulary of religion; although the good effects of a constant and prolonged employment of this vocabulary are not traceable in the lives and habits of the great mass of the poorest classes. If you wish to get at the people, you must be, not seem, as they are. It is not necessary to dress or to talk as they do. But the special dress and the professional talk of many of the clergy erect impassable barriers between the churches and the drinking people. It is hopeless to expect that a paid professional class can alone carry into effect a revolution in lives and habits which are so largely the results of the neglect


by the whole of the community. Each member of society must own to himself or herself the existence of inalienable responsibility which cannot be evaded by a cheque, or discharged by the languid profession of an unpersecuted creed. The drunkenness of great cities is the result of causes for which every comfortable adult is individually and directly responsible. The relentless exertion of the public conscience and the public, and nothing less, will, without fear of labour, or favour of interests, now, even in this decade, mend or end many of the sources of evil which lead to wasting tyranny of habitual excess in intoxicating liquors.

The concentrated expenditure of £ 100,000 on one spot in for a Palace of Delight, to rival the myriad public-houses, is a dissipation of energy. Poor men cannot afford the practice of riding to their pleasures. Public-houses are prosperous because they are always handy. Fifty small centres of delight would reach a larger public than a central palace, and the money laid out would have gone further However, the thing is accomplished, and it is to be hoped that the stimulus


to providing rational enjoyment to those whose lives are destitute of sunshine and grace may lead to a constant repetition of the noble work carried out by in so effectual and patriotic a manner.

Drink in is not a local, it is an Imperial question. The passionate longing for excitement, and the longing to escape from the destiny of ugliness and pain, which kills family life in East End homes, is evidence of that rough energy which has dominated weaker races in all parts of the world. We have carried from our great cities a worldgirdling influence of appetite and passion. The Indians of America and of Hindostan, the wild races of , the kingly Maories, timid Kanakas, fighting Kaffirs and debased Hottentots, West Coast negroes, effeminate Sinhalese, and the sinewy aborigines of Canada and the North Pacific Coastal islands, have bitter reasons to rue the first day of their encounter with the Anglo-Saxon race. The drinking habits of great cities have permeated the world. Diamond and gold mines, worked with English capital, and carried on under the


skilled administration of English engineers, are the baleful centres of waste and death, which cargoes of missionaries neither influence nor destroy. Every man who leaves England is a missionary. He is a standard by which English civilization is gauged. England has been betrayed by her sons abroad. Eight centuries of noble deeds do not atone for the devil's work of one. The simplest ideal of a nation, as of an individual, is, that contact with her shall leave no stain on others. England has not stained; she has polluted with drink and honey-combed with foul disease the lives of those races who still survive a contact all unsought by them. We have done these things, and they cannot be undone. Repentance, if sincere, can only take the form of purging our great cities. St. Boniface wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 800, " I hear that you Saxons are mighty drinkers of ale, and that you are worse than the Jews and heathen about me." It was true, and in a thousand years we have gone from bad to worse. I absolutely disbelieve in the power of law to change habits which are accessible only to the highest


moral and intellectual influences. Nevertheless, there are some abuses capable of being arrested by wise legislation. The series of temperance measures passed by the Norwegian Storthing, and known generally as the Gothenburg system, has changed an immoderate into a moderate consumption of alcoholic liquors. This system was tried in the first instance in the smaller towns and villages. At the beginning of , the capital, Christiana, was included among the areas subject to the liquor laws, so great were the results achieved by the trial in smaller areas. The main features of the Gothenburg system are-

1. That alcoholic drinks are dispensed by persons deriving no profit from the sale.

2. That the profits arising from the sale are employed by the local authority towards the expense of local government and the reduction of rates.

3. That food is sold to, and partaken of by customers at the time when drink is purchased.

The genius of the English character would probably resent the last provision; but the


transfer of pecuniary interest in sales from the seller to the local authority is a valuable principle, which may be well worth trying when we have a system of local government capable of discharging functions similar to those so successfully carried out by Norwegian Mayors and Counsellors.

It is clear that no diminution of drinking habits can occur without a diminution of drink produced and supplied, and therefore without a reduction of trade profits. Any measures, whether legislative or philanthropic, having for their object the sobriety of the English people, must necessarily be a direct attack on the drink interest. This being so, it is hopeless to expect to evade the hostility of the licensed victuallers, or of the beer barons. Reasonable compensation should be granted for the extinction of bonî-fide interests, since confiscation sanctioned in one department of civil life will not remain content with a single victory. Justice, and nothing more than justice, should be conceded. It will be well to suspend for the present the creation of baronets and peers connected with the drink interests, as however


worthy they may be in other respects, the distinctions conferred on those gentlemen are apt to give an erroneous impression to uncivilized heathen races as to the degree of honour in which drink trafficking is held by the better class of Englishmen.